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If you've got $5,000 to spare, you could buy a piece of Net nostalgia in the form of the OpenProjects .net, .com and .org domains.

Owner, founder of the OpenProjects Network (OPN) and professional online beggar Rob Levin, has decided to put them up for sale on eBay (all the sites in question point to the auction entry).

The sale marks the sorry end of a network which grew from nothing to become the 20th biggest IRC channel on the Internet in just a few short years. OPN became synonymous with the open source philosophy, and formed the main meeting point for thousands of its practitioners.

However, its success was also its downfall, with creator Rob Levin increasingly unable to deal with all the work required to run it. Mr Levin - known widely as Lilo online - decided the only way to continue was to appoint someone full-time to look after the network.

Naturally, that was him, so he opened a fund on 1 Feb 2001 and encouraged people on the network to make contributions through PayPal. Just a month later, he left his job at Transvirtual Technologies in California. By May, there was just under $3,900 in the fund. Of which $3,600 was then spent paying a lawyer to set up the non-profit organisation Peer-Directed Projects Center (PDPC) - run by Mr Levin.

According to the immaculately kept records of the fund, a month later the fund's trustee (a Mr Levin) decided to pay Rob Levin's $228.36 mobile phone bill. From that point the records end. However, when Mr Levin left his job at Levin & Associates in his home town of Houston, Texas in May 2002, he decided for second time that the network needed a full-time staffer.

Unfortunately, other members of the community began to grow angry at its new direction, especially after Mr Levin mass mailed other communities across the Internet under the Open Projects name asking for money. "I'm writing to let your readers know that Open Projects Net IRC is in serious trouble, and to ask for their help. As a result of normal attrition in the ranks of our servers, we've begun to experience reliability problems in the service we provide," he opined.

Mr Levin - who had by now started to referring to himself in the royal "we" - was to earn more displeasure from his subjects when he gladly informed them that the next $3,000+ donated had "all gone to paying bills, to paying the rent, to buying food and necessities. No corporate jet here. We're almost caught up on our bills, though we're probably $300-600 in arrears on our student loan payments".

The expenses breakdown sparked suggestions that IRC should only be a hobby and perhaps Mr Levin should farm out responsibility to volunteers if he was unable to cope with the job unpaid and part-time. Contributors deserted the network and set up their own networks but not before some created the Liloaid site in dedication. "By donating just $5.00 a month, or whatever you can afford, you can help give lilo the tools to carry on running OPN while slowly losing his grip on reality," it suggests.

While still owner of the OpenProjects domains, Mr Levin and PDPC (of which Mr Levin is executive director and president) decided to adopt OPN and at the same time rename it Freenode. According to the Freenode FAQ, this was because the "old name seemed bulky and unwieldly", so "we took the opportunity to change the name to freenode, which was shorter and seemed more memorable".

Unfortunately, Freenode is also short of cash. As it itself asks on its website: "Why do you need money? Aren't IRC networks run for free? Most IRC networks are indeed run on a minimal budget. Freenode is no exception. But we're a bit different from the usual network..." Yes we are.

Freenode has decided upon a course of action however: "We're looking for modest funding for a paid staffer, part of whose time will be devoted to Freenode". All fund-raising for this worthy cause will be run through "our parent organisation, Peer-Directed Projects Center", based in Texas.

If people are concerned that donated funds may go on rent and mobile bills however, fear not, because "the board of directors of Peer-Directed Projects Center must approve all expenditures of funds for freenode and other PDPC projects".

Keeping the Chinese Walls in his mind alive, the Freenode FAQ also answers the question: "What's happening with the openprojects.net domain?" with the answer: "We don't know. PDPC does not own the openprojects.net domain and it is not considered to be a part of freenode."

Of course, "we" now know that Mr Levin is selling them for $5,000, presumably to help pay off "our" student loans. So far there are no bids with just nine days left. ®

Relevant Links
Liloaid
Mr Levin's homepages
Mr Levin's homepages Part II
Mr Levin's homepages Part III?

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